THE MAN WHO DESTROYED THE JUDICIARY AND THE NEXT GENERATION OF FILIPINOS

Many suspect corruption was the motive behind the massive purchase of Dengvaxia vaccine, to raise money to help fund the Liberal Party’s bid to retain the presidency, thru Mar Roxas, in 2016.  The Senate Blue Ribbon Committee wondered:

“Final payments to Zuellig indicate that the total payments of government for Dengvaxia was not P3 billion as indicated in the NCA, but P2.8 billion, also indicating P200 million unaccounted for. We wonder where it went.”

IF one were to make a litany of Benigno Simeon Cojuangco Aquino III’s crimes against the Filipino people during his now unlamented six-year presidency, (2010-2016) and there are many, two stand out in sharp relief.

One, he appointed, in August 2012, one of the most unpopular and unqualified chief justices ever, Maria Lourdes P. A. Sereno.  By so doing, he destroyed the judiciary, the third and many believe, the most powerful branch of the government.  The Supreme Court is at the top of the judiciary.  What the high court says is the law of the land, even if what it says is wrong.

Two, in early 2016, in the heat of the presidential election campaign, President Aquino hastily procured, for a whopping P3.5 billion a virtually untested anti-dengue vaccine, Dengvaxia, produced by Sanofi, a French multinational drug behemoth with not-so-lily white a reputation, and  turned innocent and hapless 830,000 Filipino children into guinea pigs by authorizing their vaccination with Dengvaxia.

By so doing, Aquino risked the lives of those children and made them potential victims of the 21st century equivalent of mass murder by chemical warfare.  By so doing, Aquino destroyed a future generation.

Many suspect corruption was the motive behind the massive purchase of Dengvaxia vaccine, to raise money to help fund the Liberal Party’s bid to retain the presidency, thru Mar Roxas, in 2016.  The Senate Blue Ribbon Committee wondered:

“Final payments to Zuellig indicate that the total payments of government for Dengvaxia was not P3 billion as indicated in the NCA, but P2.8 billion, also indicating P200 million unaccounted for. We wonder where it went.”

The money used to buy the vaccines came not from the Department of Health’s vaccine purchase budget, but from a special fund that should have been used as salaries of new government hires.  And the Dengvaxia vaccine was apparently overpriced.  In other countries, like Brazil and India, the same vaccine could be bought at a much lower price.  In Brazil, its estimated cost is $42 per three doses; the Philippines, $60. 

But why would Aquino risk the lives of hundreds of thousands just for a small sum of electioneering money?  Isn’t this the equivalent of selling Jesus’s head for 30 pieces of silver?

Sereno ouster

Chief Justice Sereno is now the subject of two ouster moves.  The first is before the Supreme Court where the government has filed a quo warranto case against her for non-filing of her Statement of Assets, Liabilities, and Networth (SALNs) at least 11 times (in 1998, 2002, 2006, 2009, plus seven years, from 2010 to 2016).

These covered her years as a government professor at the state University of the Philippines and a justice of the highest court of the land.   For the first time in its history, the Supreme Court will judge if chief justice is qualified for the position or not.  Thirteen of Sereno’s 14 colleagues in the high court are hostile to her.  A majority vote is enough to remove her and declare her a usurper to the position of chief justice.

A quo warranto demands by what right or warrant is Sereno holding on to the position of chief justice when she was not qualified to the position in the first place, or from the very beginning.  The filing of SALNs is a mandatory requirement for government officials.  And having filed one’s SALNs is a basic requirement, under the law and the Constitution, for candidates (who are government officials) for the position of justice and chief justice of the Supreme Court.

Solicitor General Calida insists that a person who does not file his/her SALNs, not once, not twice, not thrice, but many times, lacks “proven competence, integrity, probity and independence”, qualities required of Supreme Court justices.   The late Chief Justice Renato Corona was convicted by the Senate, in 2012, for his failure to declare deposits and certain assets in his SALN.

Sereno’s lawyer, Alex Poblador, warned the SC justices during the single hearing on the quo warranto case, April 10: “It (quo warranto) will set a very dangerous precedent and destroy the independence of the judiciary and the separation of powers.”

Indeed, adds former senator and Manila Times columnist Francisco “Kit” Tatad: “It would destroy the Constitution by putting the SC justices above it. Should the President (Duterte) disagree with the action of the justices, a grave constitutional crisis would arise between two of the three co-equal and coordinate branches of government. But should the President and the justices find themselves in agreement, it would be the end of the Philippines as a democratic and republican state, in which ‘sovereignty resides in the people and all government emanates from them’. The Constitution could be vaporized forever.”

Impeachment

The second ouster move is being initiated by the House of Representatives.  In May this year, if not earlier or later, the House, by a vote of at least a third of its members will impeach Sereno.   Upon impeachment, the House brings the case before the Senate which must either exonerate her or declare her guilty.  A guilty verdict requires the two-thirds vote (16 senators) of all members of the Senate.  There are 22 sitting senators; one is in jail (Leila de Lima who claims she is entitled to vote).   Aquino’s Yellow party, the Liberal Party, has six members.  They need only one more vote and Sereno keeps her job.

This makes the quo warranto case an easier hurdle. Only the votes of seven justices are needed to oust Sereno.  As we said, 13 justices are hostile against her, maybe because Sereno has legendary EQ (emotional quotient) problems (she got a failing grade in her psychiatric test for chief justice) and because she violated the Supreme Court’s ironclad rule on en banc decisions.

The writ of quo warranto is being sought by Solicitor General Calida “to question the validity of her appointment; in turn, the impeachment complaint accuses her of committing culpable violation of the Constitution and betrayal of public trust while in office. Stated differently, the petitioner is seeking her ouster from her office because she did not prove her integrity as an applicant for the position. The complainant in the impeachment proceedings wants her removed as the sitting Chief Justice for impeachable offenses.”

Why Aquino is culpable in Dengvaxia

Back to Dengvaxia.  The Senate’s anti-graft probe body, the Blue Ribbon Committee, led by Senator Richard Gordon has made a litany of Noynoy Aquino’s culpability.  Here are they:

  1. President Aquino is liable because he is the prime mover and the decision maker of the entire process. None of this could have happened without his initiation, without his knowledge, and without his approval. The former President had a reputation for micromanaging, e.g., what happened in Mamasapano. This cannot be denied.
  2. He already had designs for this type of a program early on, cemented especially after he met Sanofi officers in Beijing during APEC November 2014. But before his designs could come to fruition he needed someone malleable, someone aggressive, and an equally political person to head the DOH. Exit thus Dr. Enrique Ona-under very unclear, quite mysterious, circumstances. This cannot be denied.
  3. Aquino stated that it was Ona who introduced to him the idea of a vaccine against dengue- Dengvaxia, that may be used in the Philippines. Ona denies this. That if at all he was the one who introduced the idea must be seen in the context of an informal conversation and not in the form of a policy proposal. The former President claimed that Ona was with him when he went to China, and presumably would have been present in the discussions with Sanofi. Ona denied this again. He said he could not have been with him in China as he already was on leave at that time. Instead of relying on a professional doctor with excellent credentials and unsullied reputation, he chooses a politician who comes from an influential and powerful political clan. Enter Dr. (and former Congresswoman) Janette Garin, who was not a public health doctor but a politician. This Aquino cannot deny. 
  4. The bureaucracy was such that whenever Aquino met with Sanofi, a signal was shown to the Department concerned and its bureaucrats that he was interested in this. Thus, things came to a boil most especially after he negotiated with Sanofi in Paris on December 2015. After that, all processes achieved lightning-speed. And it became easy for Garin to coopt the DOH professionals by appointing her own cronies to the FDA. This cannot be denied.

 

Thus, the DOH could not perform its mandate under the law. Under the Administrative Code, the State is mandated to “protect and promote the health of the people… endeavor to make essential goods, health and other social services available to all the people at affordable cost; [and] establish and maintain and effective food and drug regulatory system.”

The President should have been able to rely on the DOH. Under the law, the primary function of the DOH “is the promotion, protection and delivery of health services and through regulation and encouragement of providers of health goods and services.”

Moreover, Aquino should not have allowed Garin to hold concurrent positions as the Secretary of Health and as Officer-in-Charge of FDA. This is a clear violation of Art. VII, Sec. 13 of the Constitution, which provides that, “[t]he President, Vice-President, the Members of the Cabinet, and their deputies or assistants shall not, unless otherwise provided in this Constitution, hold any other office or employment during their tenure.” Later on, Garin would appoint her friends and favorites to the FDA. This is where the system failed. As one former Secretary of Health had said, one should not mix health and politics.

  1. It was wrong, unethical and illegal for Aquino and Garin to negotiate with Sanofi on Dengvaxia. This cannot be denied.
  • There was no National Immunization Council (NIC) recommendation. The NIC  is  an  external  advisory  group  to  the Expanded Program on Immunization (EPI) office  of  the DOH. This  committee  was  created  through  Ministry  Order  Number  327-A  series  of  1986 and  serves  to  provide  direction  and  technical support  on  policies  and  plans  pertaining  to immunization  and  provide  an  avenue  for coordinating  all  aspects  of  the  Philippine immunization  program. It is supposed to meet twice a year, on a March and on a September. It could not have made a recommendation for EPI’s review, and for the Secretary’s issuance, as it was rendered inactive. He sinned.
  • He knew or should have known, because information was readily available to him at that time, that Dengvaxia was fraught with danger. At best it did not work for the targeted vaccinees, and it was least effective for the dengue strain endemic to the Philippines. At worst, it could be lethal to seronegative children (those who had not been bitten by a mosquito vector and infected beforehand). There were warnings sent out by local experts, as well as an eminent dengue expert abroad about Dengvaxia’s dangers. Information could have been easily sought, if he had shown any curiosity or deep interest. Again, he sinned.
  • Dengvaxia was a drug sold by a company, Sanofi-Pasteur, well-known for bribery and unethical conduct around the world. He sinned again and again.
  • Dengvaxia was not utilized anywhere in the world, except in Brazil (for a limited, targeted use). It was not allowed in Malaysia. It was allowed in Singapore but only for private use where there is a one-on-one relationship between patient and doctor. And, it was not licensed in France, Sanofi’s headquarters. And again, Aquino sinned.
  • At the time of negotiation, Dengvaxia was not licensed here in the Philippines. The government could not have also bought it, even if it were licensed, because it had no exemption or was not listed in the Philippine National Drug Formulary (PNDF). This cannot be denied. And, he sinned again.
  • Even, assuming for the sake of argument, that Dengvaxia already had a license from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) it still would have been illegal for Aquino and Garin to buy the drug. The license was only for dispensation of the vaccine on a doctor’s prescription basis. This means that there was an engaged or paid doctor to inject the vaccine and thereafter monitor the patient. But when Aquino and Garin went on to conduct mass vaccination, they thereby discriminated against, afforded less care, and displayed lack of affection for the poor, because the impoverished had no choice but to avail themselves of free injections performed mostly by non- doctors who had neither the time nor the capacity to skillfully conduct post-injection monitoring. They and their ilk wronged the poor and suffering Filipinos for the sake of political expediency and greed. One need not be a lawyer to conclude that indeed a grave social injustice was committed here. And now, a mortal sin.
  • The vaccine cost us P1,000 per injection, compared with a health economist’s estimate that it should only be in the region of P600+, or with that of Brazil’s cheaper acquisition cost. The total budget was P3.5 B, large enough to be allotted without the President’s initiation and imprimatur. He sinned again.
  1. Aquino and Garin meet with Sanofi in Paris in December, where he and Garin negotiated a discount. This was not only improper, this violated rules on procurement in that a bidding would have been required. For all intents and purposes, the bidding that was conducted by Philippine Children’s Medical Center (PCMC) later to acquire the drug was already lutong macao. The negotiations in Paris already sealed the deal. This cannot be denied. And, another sin after another.
  2. He did not exercise utmost diligence expected of a President when, without a hint of care, he went ahead with the program even if:
  • The trials were not over, therefore not complete;
  • He deliberately refused to heed the warnings that were given out by experts as to its dangers. He did not listen, nor paid attention to those who really knew how long the ill-effects would be.
  • The drug was very expensive, compared with other countries’ acquisition cost. The sinning seems to have no end.
  1. He approves the Special Allotment Release Order (SARO) and Notice of Cash Allocation (NCA) in amazing record time, and even during a holiday period. There definitely was undue haste in the procurement of this hazardous vaccine. The inordinate haste thus paved the way for regulatory capture and cooptation of bureaucrats in the DOH. He further sinned again. This cannot be denied.
  2. He violated the human rights of parents/guardians of these impoverished Filipino children when no proper, and intelligent information was given them pre-introduction of the vaccine. Informed consent could not have been validly given thus. He laid the foundation for the parents’ and guardians’ sleepless nights, continuing apprehension, never-ending anxiety, and unremitting disquietude. They worry incessantly that come tomorrow, or the next, the dreaded ill-effects of Dengvaxia may come a-visiting their children. This cannot be denied.
  3. His sins and transgressions has put the lives of Filipino children in grave peril. This, can never be denied.

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